“How do you decide what to preach about?”
I generally plan topics anywhere from 1 to 3 months in advance (though this morning I was discussing topics for October…5 months out.) I usually think in terms of series rather than stand-alone messages (though I do those at times).
There are multiple factors that go into making that decision.
1. First, of course, I start with prayer. I seek to listen to what I sense the Lord is saying to me about what the congregation needs to hear. It is his church, and he knows what is they need.
2. Directional needs of the congregation. Do we need to recapture our passion for evangelism? Prayer? Serving the poor? Preaching can help catalyze the direction of the church.
A while ago I felt it was important our church have a clear sense of who Jesus is and kingdom values. So I started a series of messages through the book of Luke.
3. A balance between:
a. challenge and comfort – prophetic and pastoral.
b. series which are targeting at growing the believers with those designed to speak to unreached.
c. work through biblical books with free-standing topical themes.
4. Theme ideas can emerge from:
– Needs or questions or I hear repeatedly in casual conversations
– Truths that grip me in my own devotional time
– Issues arising from the culture
5. Standard recurring themes: there are some topics which need to be addressed regularly (though not necessarily each year): marriage, money, forgiveness, evangelism are a few. If I realize that it’s been a long time since we’ve addressed one of those, I will put it in the mix.
6. More and more I like to preach through books of the Bible, as they prompt me to speak on what I otherwise wouldn’t, and it gives people a chance to digest God’s agenda.
I have also started sharing the preaching plan with our executive staff and getting their input. It’s a great way to sharpen and improve my thinking.
Yesterday I spent the morning with a group of young UM pastors from around Western Pennsylvania. I shared with them about Crossroads’ vision and values, then a few learnings from the 28 years I’ve been a pastor.
Some of these I heard from others and found them true in my experience. Others I just discovered through trial and (mostly) error. Here they are:
1. Your first job is to be “fully-lit”
– fan the flame of love for God and others
– Can you say “Jesus is enough”
– avoid cynicism
Burn-out: watch all gauges: relational, emotional, physical, spiritual
Stress = trying to control the uncontrollable
2. Keep your Vision crystal clear
– is it from God?
– can I say it simply?
– am I acting on it daily?
3. Enforce the Values of the church and kingdom
4. Don’t adopt a model, but let DNA guide you
5. Church’s growth regulated by the pain tolerance of the sr. pastor.
6. Be committed to personal growth and be an satiable learner
7. Expect and handle criticism well
No matter what you do you will be criticized – if you are going to introduce change you will be criticized. Some people will communicate it badly, but:
a. learn what you can
b. get it for good reasons (moving ahead)
8. Remember you are in a Spiritual War
– recruit a prayer team
9. Learn to skillfully manage Change
10. ** Keep main thing the main thing: Love God and love people.
Many scholars believe Jesus died and rose again in 33 A.D. If that is so, then based on the biblical record, Jesus rose from the dead on April 23, 33 A.D. (you can check out http://www.christianity.com/ChurchHistory/11629555)
So happy 1978th anniversary of the resurrection!
The Egyptian revolution shows why you should step up to lead in your community.
It wasn’t long ago that the world watched in amazement as the central square of Cairo, Egypt filled with throngs of protesters demanding drastic change in their government. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Egyptian uprising (as well as those all across the Arab world) is that they seem to be spontaneous mass mobilizations. There was no individual leader spearheading the movement, and thus there was no one to arrest in order to quell the revolution.
The leaderless protests were successful at driving Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, from power – unthinkable just a short time ago. But since then, there has been no progress in forming a new government, let alone a new national future. Egyptians are nervously waiting through a period of political limbo.
What will happen in Egypt? Will we will see secular democracy emerge, or will it be a Sharia-law religious state? Will the new Egypt be friendly toward the West and the United States or not?
I do not pretend to have any answers to those questions, but I am convinced that what whatever direction Egypt takes will be a result of a leader taking her there. We will not see a spontaneous crowd in the square forging the new national vision.
A leaderless crowd can protest, but it cannot build. It can reject the present, but it cannot map out the future. In short, a crowd can complain but it cannot govern. Leaders are required to cast a vision for the future which will resonate with the crowds.
It’s not just Egypt which needs leaders, we do, too. You might expect me to refer to our federal or state government here, but I won’t. I’m thinking closer to home. Your community needs leaders. Your child’s Little League, your school board, church, family reunion, or local zoning board (the list is endless) all need people who will step forward and lead constructively. You can be that someone.
Stepping up to leadership means shifting from criticizing to generating ideas. Anyone can complain, it takes leaders to chart a path toward progress.
Are your daily conversations filled with vented frustrations over what “they” are doing, or with ideas about how things could be better? Those who focus on solutions instead of articulating problems are not only happier, but they make a greater difference than those who settle for complaining.
Yes, you will be criticized when you step out to lead. You can count on it. That is the price of leadership. Unselfish leaders are willing to pay that price in order to move toward a brighter mutual future. One composer whose work was ravaged by the critics was reminded, “Keep composing. No one ever built a statue of a critic.”
Take the risk, step out and lead. Your community will be stronger for it. Don’t settle for complaining, share some ideas and act on them. Our future depends on it.
On Saturday March 12 I was on the treadmill at the gym, squeezing in a workout before heading to the church for worship. A few minutes in, I collapsed, my heart in a “fatal arhythmia”. I’m told that a gym employee, who was not scheduled to be there that day, started CPR. A doctor happened to be working out nearby and jumped in to help. It turns out that the day before he had been re-certified in the use of A.E.D. machines, and used the gym’s AED to restart my heart.
At the hospital I learned I had an artery 95-99% blocked, and a heart by-pass operation has given me a fresh start: the docs tell me I can be running half-marathons this time next year!
I’m sure this experience will shape me in more ways than I can tell, but so far my dominant impressions are:
1. God wants me here. The heart cath doc showed me my blockage and said “You are one lucky guy…” and another tech said “someone must be watching over you..”. I believe God in his grace wants me here.
2. I don’t control as much as I think I do. I tried to eat right and work out. I wasn’t overweight and my levels were all normal. But I still went down. And through no merit or efforts of my own, I am here today and will be healthier than I was before. I live by grace.
I have joined the ranks of those who sport the chest “zipper”; when I see my scar in the future, it will remind me that I am “marked by grace”.
“You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times…” – Psalm 60:2-3
When I look at the pictures of the devastation in Japan, I am reminded of a speaker I heard last year at a missions conference. He pointed out that many of the world’s recent natural disasters have occurred in areas which are unreached or resistant to the Gospel. He was not saying that God was judging those areas, but rather that a disaster disrupts the status quo and creates an opportunity for the Gospel to penetrate hearts. For example, there are now many churches in Sumatra which did not exist before the 2004 tsunami. That is because Christ-followers brought aid and the Good News in the aftermath, and the people were more open.
Japan has been a spiritually resistant country for hundreds of years. Churches there are small and struggling. Might this disaster create a fresh opportunity for the Gospel?
It can, if we “run to the pain”, as the speaker challenged us to do. Wherever we see pain and trauma in the world, we don’t need to waste time asking why, we simply run to that pain and be the love of Jesus there. It is quite possible God will use that moment to change the eternal trajectory of a people.
You might see some people with dirty foreheads today, because it is Ash Wednesday. For over 1,000 years Christians have marked the beginning of “Lent” – the 40 day period before Easter – by observing Ash Wednesday. (ashes are to remind us of the temporary nature of our lives)
As believers, we can have ashes put on our foreheads and miss the real meaning, or we can ignore Ash Wednesday as an empty ritual. Either way we are poorer spiritually.
The gift of Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, is that each year we are reminded to intentionally embrace the fact that we are not yet like Jesus, and we need his deep cleansing work in our lives. How can we use this time, part of the of the Church for millenia, to allow God to shape us at the soul level?
1. Take some moments today to ask God to show you where you need to repent. It may be a different answer than you think.
2. Fast once per week in Lent. Going without food fora spiritual reason can impact us long after we have started eating again. Use the time you’d eat for prayer and watch God work in and through you. You may notice sin’s grip is a little looser, and your prayer more impactful.
3. Serve someone else secretly during Lent.
Ash Wednesday reminds us we don’t have forever here on earth. Let’s pursue God today.
I have read that physicists have shown that when particles are accelerated to near the speed of light,time slows down. Should a particle actually reach the speed of light, time would stand still. Though that might be hard to comprehend, it can help us understand the nature of God just a little more.
1 John 1:5 says God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Since God is light, time stands still in God’s presence. In other words, there is really no “before” or “after”. God is always with us, and is not limited by time or space. And eternity may not be a long, long time, as we usually think of it. Eternity may mean no time at all. (which is why we will “sing a new song”- if there is no time there is no such thing as a beat!)
What’s the point? Without being aware of it, we often shrink God down to our size in an effort to fit Him into our reality and thinking. It’s easier to conceive of God as a person dwelling in a place called heaven, which functions just like our world.
Yet God is so much bigger, so much more “other” than we can possibly imagine. Let’s remember that the next time our problems loom large — God is more awesome still.
Peter Wagner once said there are three factors which influence a church’s growth and health:
1. Institutional (ex: adequate parking, budget priorities, right leaders in right places)
2. Contextual (connecting with your community’s culture, who you are reaching)
3. Spiritual (ex: obedience, prayer, spiritual forces in community)
Giving attention to all three is necessary. However, we each have a tendency toward one; that is, we will tend to look at the ministry through that one lens alone. This will produce some distorted images of our church and frustrating ministry attempts because an institutional bottleneck can’t be solved by a spiritual answer, and a spiritual problem can’t be solved with an institutional answer. Which do you tend toward first?
It occurs to me that a similar approach to our individual health and growth. If a guy is spending more than he makes, he might pray that God will provide and that debt will go away, but he needs to rip up the credit cards and make a budget. On the other hand, if a woman’s selfishness is ruining her marriage, it is fine to get counseling, but it is not going to help much until she asks God to change he heart and teach her to love.
Choosing the right answer requires understanding the question.
Steve Cordle is the founding and lead pastor of Crossroads Church, a small group-based congregation with five locations in the Pittsburgh metro area. He also leads a18movement, a non-profit dedicated catalyzing church plants globally. Steve is the author of three books: A Jesus-Shaped Life, Hear it, See it, Risk it, and The Church in Many Houses. He coaches pastors and church planters in the United States and Western Europe. He enjoys running, playing classical piano, and all Pittsburgh sports. Steve is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary (M. Div) and United Theological Seminary (D. Min). Steve and his wife, Linda, have three grown sons, three daughters-in-love, and three grandchildren.
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